Apisak: Thai finance minister in name only

The former banker holds the title of finance minister in Thailand's junta-led government, but none of the duties. He comes dead last in our Asian Finance Minister of the Year rankings.

Thailand’s finance ministers can have a rather tenuous grip on the reigns of power. 

Kittiratt Na-Ranong, who held the posts of deputy prime minister and finance minister under the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, was a dominant figure. The country’s latest finance minister is anything but.

Apisak Tantivorawong, former president of Krung Thai Bank, was given the job in August. But most observers agree that Somkid Jatusripitak, the deputy prime minister, is the true force when it comes to economic policy in the country. 

Apisak ranks 12th out of 12 in our annual Finance Minister of the Year rating, down from 11th place last year.

Somkid is perhaps a surprising choice for Thailand’s ruling military junta. He had previously worked as finance minister and commerce minister during the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former prime minister. But the junta appears to have emphasised Somkid’s policy experience over his former allies. 

That looks a smart choice. Somkid has sped up the implementation of infrastructure projects, hoping this will lead to a boost in private sector spending, a crucial area of concern for economists. It remains to be seen quite how successful that will be, but a mooted budget deficit of 3% of GDP in the next financial year shows the government has no plans to give up without a fight.

Thailand is, in other words, doing all it can to address the problems of an economy that still suffers from weak consumption. There is every possibility that had Somkid been considered for this award, he would have placed higher up the list. 

But the office is as important as the man, and in Thailand, the office of finance minister has been devalued.

That is no fault of Apisak’s. He is a political appointee who has found himself in a position of limited power. But when considering the performance of a finance minister, one must consider not just what they have done, but also what they can do.

On both counts, Apisak Tantivorawong scores poorly.

TOMORROW: It's time for this finance minister to take his foot out of his mouth and retire

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